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Garrity's Saturday Stakes picks the Hillsborough, Florida Oaks, Tampa Bay Derby, Azeri and Beholder

First post is 4:04 pm ET.

It’s a pretty big day today, with the most prominent races in Southwest Florida, where the Tampa Bay Derby headlines the biggest day of the year in Tampa. We have selection in three races there, plus one each at Oaklawn and Santa Anita, for five plays to commemorate the last Saturday in Standard Time.

We expect fast dirt and firm turf in all races. Let’s go.

Tampa Bay Downs, Race 9, 4:04 pm ET

Grade 2 Hillsborough Stakes, 1 ⅛ miles, Turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

Seven go in the Hillsborough. Six of them have little or no early speed, which points in the direction of the one who does, 7-Scotish Star, who should get a ridiculously early lead, which will make her very, very difficult to catch. She is not the most talented runner in the field, but she will, we think, be a reminder that sometimes race shape is as big a factor as ability in determining the winner of a horse race. We will bet Scotish Star to win at 6-1 odds. The bet: Tampa Bay Downs, Race 9, $40 to win on 7-Scotish Star.

Tampa Bay Downs, Race 10, 4:45 pm ET

Grade 3 Florida Oaks, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, 3-Year-Old Fillies

The Florida Oaks drew a dozen entrants. We are positively smitten with one: 11-Grace Darling, an Irish-bred filly who made two starts last year, at Naas Racecourse in Kildare, before being brought to the United States over the winter. She has a very good European turf pedigree, and we might like her just for that reason, but what has us over the moon about her prospects here is the way she won her American debut, when she bested a field of maidens on Feb. 16. She closed very strongly to prevail by two lengths, and did so on Gulfstream Park’s speed-favoring turf course. That is a sign of a very, very good filly, and we think her prospects today are even better, as the presence of quite a few runners with good early speed should produce a quick early pace that will set the table for her strong stretch run. We’d be excited about Grace Darling’s prospects if she was 2-1; that she is 6-1 has us skipping to the windows. We will bet her to win. The bet: Tampa Bay Downs, Race 10, $60 to win on 11-Grace Darling.

Tampa Bay Downs, Race 11, 5:15 pm ET

Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds

The Tampa Bay Derby drew a field of twelve. The first question a handicapper must face is what to do with 6-Tapit Trice, the Todd Pletcher trainee, and morning line favorite, who has been very impressive in his three career starts, especially in his last, when he earned a big speed figure winning an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4. He is probably the likeliest winner, but this is a game about making money, not picking winners, and we think that a short price, likely odds-on by post time, Tapit Trice is an awful wager, and we are looking elsewhere.

We like 3-Classic Legacy. He’s a big, long-striding colt, trained by Bill Mott, who has yet to run really fast, but who we think will be better as the distances get longer. We also think his last start, when he finished third in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay on Feb. 11, was deceptively good, as he closed well despite getting bumped early, and running wide all the way around the track. Considering that was his first start around two turns, and that his inside post should allow jockey Irad Ortiz to work out a better trip for him, we think Classic Legacy makes a big step forward, right into the winner’s circle this afternoon. We will bet him to win at 6-1. The bet: Tampa Bay Downs, Race 11, $40 to win on 3-Classic Legacy.

Oaklawn Park, Race 9, 5:54 pm ET

Grade 2 Azeri Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

The Azeri came up a corker of a race this year, with a very talented, and very deep, field of eight. The headliners are 1-Secret Oath, who won last year’s Kentucky Oaks, and 3-Clairiere, a multiple Grade 1 winner who makes her first start since finishing third in last year’s Breeders Cup Distaff. While a win by either would not be a surprise, we think a far better wager is one on 7-Hot and Sultry, a lightly raced 4-year-old filly who has hit the exacta every time she’s run, with three wins and two seconds in five starts. All of those races were around one turn, and this is around two, but both her pedigree and her running style suggest she will be able to handle the distance, and her recent morning workouts, which were sensational, suggest that she is sitting on a monster race. She has controlling speed, which means she will get a tactically advantageous trip; the only question is whether she is good enough to finish the job against competition of this caliber. We do not know the answer to that question, but we will take 20-1 that it is yes. We will bet her to win. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 9, $40 to win on 7-Hot and Sultry.

Santa Anita Park, Race 8, 3:59 pm ET

Grade 1 Beholder Mile, 1 mile, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

Eight older females line up for the Grade 1 Beholder Mile. The pick is 4-Pauline’s Pearl, a Steve Asmussen trainee who ships to Southern California from her Midwest base for this spot. She is a classy 5-year-old mare – she won the Grade 1 La Troienne at Churchill Downs last year, a race run on the Kentucky Derby undercard – and she comes off a nice win in a stakes race at Sam Houston on Jan. 28, which should have her ready today. We expect the dirt course at Santa Anita to be fast by post time, but if it comes up wet – and there’s been rain there the past few days – then she is an even stronger play, as she is 2-for-2 lifetime on off tracks. We will bet her to win at 7/2 odds. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 8, $40 to win on 4-Pauline’s Pearl.

That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.

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